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EA sixth-graders join search for buried treasure in Wilmerding
Logan Elementary School sixth-graders were armed with shovels last week to help find a time capsule buried in Wilmerding more than 20 years ago. (Photos courtesy Kim Reno)
When you think of places for an archeological dig, Wilmerding probably doesn’t stand out as a prime location. But for a group of current and former East Allegheny students, the grounds of Westinghouse Arts Academy this month provided an exciting locale for an excursion 23 years in the making.
Back in 1999, students in Kim Bollinger’s sixth-grade science class at Westinghouse Elementary School, then part of the EA school district, put together a time capsule as the final part of their ongoing recycling project.
Westinghouse Elementary School closed in 2009 and now is home to the Westinghouse Arts Academy Charter School.
“At the time we didn’t have paper recycling bins [in the school],” says Kim Reno, formerly Kim Bollinger. “We put boxes in everyone’s room and had all of the teachers put their used paper in the box. My students once a month would load it into the back of my trunk and I would take it to the South Side and they paid you for the paper.”
With the money Reno’s class collected, they bought a tree which the class of approximately 20 students planted at the school in honor of retiring principal Carmen Violi. The class also prepared a time capsule.
"We buried it near the tree out in front of Westinghouse to the left near the war memorial,” Reno says. The class had planned to dig up the time capsule when they were graduating high school seniors in 2005.
Students from East Allegheny High School’s Class of 2005 who helped bury the 1999 time capsule include Macey Kinard, Amanda Toper, George Bennett, Shelley Holt and Ashley Irvin. They were on hand to assist the current sixth graders with the archeological dig. (Photos courtesy Kim Reno)
George Bennett was one of Reno’s sixth graders back in 1999. Bennett remembers thinking about the time capsule all through high school — but the plans to dig it up never materialized.
He and his classmates weren’t sure what happened to their sixth-grade teacher, either, until social media and a newspaper clipping brought them back together.
In 1999, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette did a story, including photos, on the Westinghouse Elementary School paper recycling project.
“One former student posted this [story] on Facebook and wrote ‘one of my favorite people,’” Reno says. “Some of my other students said, ‘Oh, I remember her. Remember that time capsule we buried?’”
Reno’s students inquired about whether they could go to the current Westinghouse Arts Academy and try to find their time capsule. Calls to the academy, members of Wilmerding Borough Council and EA administration were met with overwhelming support.
Reno decided to plan an archaeological dig to coincide with Earth Day to help illustrate the current Ancient Greece lesson she was teaching at Logan Elementary School.
Sixth-grade students from Logan Elementary School helped plant a tree in Wilmerding Park as part of the dig and Earth Day festivities. (Photos courtesy Kim Reno)
Along with the dig, students agreed to clean up the nearby park and plant a tree. The students also planned to plant flowers near the school, where they anticipated digging lots of holes in an attempt to find the capsule.
Bennett says he didn’t have a clear memory of what he contributed to the shoebox time capsule but he has a few ideas.
“I believe I put some of those pogs in there,” says Bennett, recalling the cardboard bottle-cap game popular in the 1990s. “There were metal ones, too, that had pictures on them and those were called Slammers. I think we put some of those in there. I may have put a picture or something in but I cannot remember of what."
Last week, on April 22, sixth-grade students took a bus from North Versailles Twp. to Wilmerding for the dig. There they were met by five of Reno’s former sixth graders, including Bennett, who came prepared with a metal detector.
“Every time my metal detector would make any type of beep, there would be six to 10 shovels at one time, slamming into the ground,” says Bennett. “They were excited to find it too. As soon as they heard a peep all their eyes got big and they were like, ‘I think I found it!’”
“I found a pipe, a piece of a gate and I think I found a piece to a car,” says Kayden Haynes, one of Reno’s current students.
What they didn’t find, unfortunately, was the original time capsule.
“It could have been decomposed but we really wanted to find whatever could have been in the capsule,” sixth-grader Blaine Wesley says.
Sean Gildea, East Allegheny's director of education, Logan Elementary School sixth-grade students Quin'cere Pitts and Jeremiah White and Wilmerding Mayor Greg Jakub pose with other sixth-graders who gathered near Westinghouse Arts Academy for the archeological dig. (Photos courtesy Kim Reno)
Greg Jakub, the mayor of Wilmerding, was happy to see so many people come together to both investigate and beautify his borough.
“This park is very special to the community and the town,” he says. “A lot of people have gone through the school and they've done different things for projects. We are grateful for everything that is done.”
Bennett said although there was disappointment about not finding the time capsule, “just the fact that we talked about it, and ended up there, actively searching for it — that was an amazing feeling. It was awesome. It brought such a smile to my face.”
The story hasn’t ended yet.
Bennett says he and a former classmate are planning to make their own ground penetrating radar device, which uses high-frequency radio waves to detect objects below the subsurface, to hopefully revisit the scene. They are not convinced something doesn’t remain from their project 23 years ago.
“We want to give it another go,” he says. “We want to find it.”
Kristen Keleschenyi is a freelance writer in North Versailles Twp. and one of the hosts of the Kristen & Amber Show on Tube City Online Radio at 5 p.m. Saturdays, 9 p.m. Mondays and 4 p.m. Thursdays. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published April 29, 2022.